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Penzance Jewish Congregation

& Jewish Community

Penzance, Cornwall

 

              

         
 

 

From Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain
Papers for a conference at University College, London, convened by the Jewish Historical Society of Great Britain
prepared by Aubrey Newman - 6th July 1975.  Reproduced here with his kind consent

PENZANCE

Penzance was flourishing in the early nineteenth century.  A community was represented on the body which appointed Chief Rabbi Dr. Nathan Adler, and in 1845 had 11 Ba'ale Batim. In 1851 there were 30 appropriated seats, 51 individual members, and the attendants on Census Sabbath were 16.

1841    Synagogue, New Street.  There are four seatholders

Board of Deputies returns
1852 1 birth 0 marriages 0 burials 6 seatholders
1860   0 2 5
1870

 

1 1 4
1880   0 1 4
1892   1 0 6



PENZANCE
Cecil Roth
(edited from 'The Decline and Fall of an Anglo-Jewish Community', Jewish Chronicle Supplement, June 1933)

The earliest minute book of the congregation closes in 1830, but the record is resumed in 1843 with two minutes books which thereafter chronicle the subsequent history and decay of the congregation.  By 1843 the community had become anglicised and Penzance was no longer isolated.  It had by then ten fully resident members and is addition these names appear of outlying members resident in Truro, Dowlais (South Wales) and Aberdare.  In 1845 the congregation was prosperous enough to purchase outright the lease of the cemetery.   Its lack of isolation is evidenced by the number of Jewish causes for which is sent subscriptions, including sums offered by local non-Jews.  But by 1848 the financial burdens were beginning to press;  in that year contributions to the Chief Rabbi's Fund were discontinued and the community was only represented for a short while on the Board of Deputies.  (At that the representative was normally resident on London.)  The community was obviously far advanced in decay.  The complaint was made that 'the congregation had sustained the loss of several members'. and the balance in the hands of the Treasurer at the end of the year was reduced to derisory sums.  Periodically the scale of contributions had to be increased and from 1855 the collection was made in weekly instalments.  The death of a member or his removal to another town was a real disaster;  in 1848 the number of signatories to minutes was reduced to ten, and by 1851 was only five.  Thenceforth quarterly meetings were considered superfluous and it was decided that half-yearly meetings were sufficient.  In 1885 it was even found necessary to hire a person to come over from Plymouth to make up a minyan for the High Holydays. The advent of Isaac Bischofswerder and his numerous family saved the situation for some considerable time.  He was appointed minister in 1865 and remained in office for twenty years.  But by 1890 the situation of decay had recurred;  in that year it was decided that if no Minyan should have presented itself in Synagogue by 9.40 on a Sabbath the service would be continued without a reading from the scroll.  The last meeting of the synagogue was held on 7th March 1892;  three of the Bischofswerder family and two other (non-resident) members met for the annual general meeting at which was recorded a deficit of 6, and the last wedding of the community took place four months later.

In the course of the new few years the last of the congregation died or else transferred themselves elsewhere.  The services of the minister were discontinued.  No one now remained excepting Mr. Morris Bischofswerder, a son of the former officiant.  On the High Festivals he would open the Synagogue and recite his prayers in melancholy solitude.  At last, in 1913, he too left the town.  The Synagogue, constructed in a burst of eager enthusiasm just over a century before, was sold and became a Plymouth Brethren Meeting House. The fittings were removed and scattered.  All that is left is the burial ground at the back of Leskinnick Terrace, the last internment in which took place in 1911.


Aubrey Newman

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